Where did you find out about that?

As you may know, quite a few of my classes are organised by the WEA.  ‘Who are they?’ people tend to ask, when I tell them who I work for.

‘Workers’ Educational Association,’ I say.

‘Oh,’ they say.  ‘Where’s your college?’

‘There’s no campus,’ I say.  ‘Classes are organised within the community, by volunteers who run the local branch.  There could be some taking place just around the corner from where you live.’

‘Really?’

weaI’ve taught in community centres, out-of-hours schools, village halls, church and chapel halls, library meeting rooms and pub-lounges.  These are all places where people pass through and might see the posters, even if they don’t sign up.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, Saturday I went to the WEA Area Meeting, where delegates from four of the local branches gathered to exchange news and share ideas.  Publicity was one of the items on the agenda, and despite the fact that this year there have been some popular courses put on, there was still a general feeling that the WEA needs a higher public profile.

pitmen_paintersThis is an organisation with a one hundred and thirteen year pedigree: that’s created a healthy alumni and alumnae.  Yet apart from the wonderful, Pitman Painters play by Lee Hall, there’s not much mention of WEA in the national or local press.

Some branches post on social media, and most put up posters and leaflets.  Finding spaces for paper publicity is tricky.  Many of the places with ‘What’s On’ displays are managed by commercial organisations, and often that limits the room left for others.

Our local newspaper used to produce a supplement that contained all of the adult education courses on offer in the county.  That’s how I came to sign up for my first creative writing class.  I remember that I browsed the list, and then took out the page I was tempted by, folded it to the relevant section and kept it on the side for a couple of days as I psyched myself up to phone and enrol.

What I’m wondering is, how can we do that with social media?  The posts on twitter and face-book move rapidly down the page, it’s no wonder that people using it for publicity put out so much duplication.

Is this chatter the best way to attract the attention of a tentative first-timer?

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‘WEA? It stands for Workers Educational Association,’ I reply.

There is a moment of thought, and then Jackie says, ‘Does that mean you’re socialists?’

I smile and shake my head.  ‘We’re not a political organisation.  “Workers” were who the organisation was originally set up for, in 1903, so that they could access higher levels of education, and have the chance to improve their opportunities,’ I say.  ‘The title’s historical.’

Jackie wonders how she’s never heard about WEA before, if it’s been around so long.

‘It always surprises me how many people haven’t,’ I agree.

‘So what is it about now?’ says Jackie.

‘It’s still about improving lives,’ I tell her, ‘but that doesn’t necessarily mean economically.  It’s also about health and well-being, about keeping our minds active and enquiring, and getting us involved with our communities.’

I think about all the different sorts of classes I’ve been involved with since I started tutoring for the WEA over a decade ago.  As well as the Open Access Programme anyone can sign up for, there have been community groups set up for students with chaotic lifestyles, and disadvantaged backgrounds, where creative writing activities have provided a safe outlet for self-expression, and for some, has provided a first step  into employment or back onto the education ladder.

‘People come to classes because they want to learn, not because they have to,’ I say.  ‘That creates a real buzz in the room.’

‘So your students are still workers in the sense that they’re working at their education?’

‘I like that,’ I say.  ‘I might steal it.’

‘Help yourself,’ says Jackie.  ‘Can I keep this brochure?’

workers_educational-association-wea-adult-learning-course-reuben-internet_main

 

Now’s the time to stand up and shout that, ‘Learning Lasts for Life.’

Do you know that the British Chancellor is suggesting that funds for adult education should be cut by 25% and 40%?

I’ve no head for figures, so I’m going to give you what the WEA have to say about it:

Less than 6% of Government spending on education and training is devoted to adult further education and skills. Further cuts, on top of the 24% and 3.9% per cent cuts to the Adult Skills Budget already announced this year, will have a devastating impact on a service that is life-changing for many people.

Putting that in context, over the next 10 years there will be 13.5 million more jobs but only 7 million young people coming into the workforce. At the same time employer investment in skills and training has declined by 2.5 billion since 2011. Apprenticeships alone will not fill the gaps. In addition, the research shows that adult education improves health and wellbeing, develops confidence and builds better communities.

I’m standing up here to say that I have a vested interest in Adult Education.  Not only doWEA Tate_Liverpool I teach adults through the WEA, I became a mature student when I was in my twenties, and I still like to go along to other people’s courses, when they fit in with my timetable, and I hope to continue to do so.  I do it because I like to top-up my skills, and because I’m interested.

What happens when I get there is I meet interesting new people.  They could be any age between 19 and …well, the oldest student on one of my classes, so far, is 94.  On an adult education course people come from all sorts of backgrounds to share their ideas.  I can’t think of any gathering more diverse.  What we have in common is an interest in knowing more about the subject.

What we get is something more than we might have expected.  A sense of community develops.  My horizons are continually broadening.  We get into stimulating discussions, and I go home buzzing with ideas.  A good class is a tonic.

That’s why I’m adding my letter of protest to the others that are going out to our local MPs and the Chancellor, to say, think again.  What Adult Education provides is precious.  It’s not just a second chance, it’s about getting out of the house.  Instead of looking at how much it costs, I would say look at how it improves our sense of self and community.  We want more of this, not less.

Learning-lasts-for-lifeIf you’re interested in finding out more about the WEA campaign to save adult education, you should take a look at their facebook page.